Monday, December 8, 2008

Canyons of the Guadalupes


The Guadalupe Mountains rise up out of the deserts of west Texas and reach into the sky. They top out 3000-5000' above the surrounding countryside. and as such they are able to generate their own weather and rain.

That rainfall is significant. One because it supports life, but also in what happens to it in the Guadalupes. In eons past the Guadalupes were an ocean reef on the edge of the Permian basin. As such they are limestone. Limestone is a very porous rock and the rain that falls into the high country of the Guadalupes goes right into the ground. There are no high country streams or ponds here, it all goes deep into the rock. It springs out at low impermeable rock layers in a few canyons or springs on the eastern side of the range.


That water in those canyons creates a sight to behold. In the deep recesses under the towering walls of McKittrick Canyon there is free flowing water. The pure clear water spills over stark white limestone. It provides life to animals. It supports trout in the stream. It allows maples to survive in the desert.

The maples of the Guadalupes put on some of the most vivid color you will ever see. They cling to north facing canyon walls and a narrow strip around the life giving water.

This is a spot that has been called the prettiest spot in Texas, and rightfully so.

I have chased the colors here in the autumn for many years. I have seen days of warm sunny sky. I have been here in the rain. I have been here in the wind. Every time I am here I am more impressed with these canyons. When I walk these paths under these colorful trees and see the huge canyon walls above I understand how John Muir must have felt in Yosemite. The best part still is that the Guadalupes are still a secret-I can spend a day here and practically have the canyon to myself. If I go out on any other trail I will have it to myself.

I marvel at the reds, oranges, and yellows of the leaves. The colors are so vivid, I sometimes wonder if you can truly capture them.

Here you will see several images from these fantastic canyons. I start with the water flowing in McKittrick. It is that water that makes it all happen. The water flows but there are places it does not. The porous nature of limestone will have the entire stream sometimes disappear underground only to re-emerge a few yards later. You can see the orange leaves and canyon walls of McKittrick. Or a close up of the maple leaves in color.

Finally there is a view from the neighboring and dry of surface water in Pine Springs Canyon. What it lacks in flowing water it makes up for in rugged splendor. Here you hike in the streambed. Over rocks and around boulders up into the narrowing canyon until you reach the Devil's Hallway where the rock walls close in on you.

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